Skip to main content

tv   Dateline NBC  NBC  June 18, 2010 9:00pm-11:00pm EDT

9:00 pm
she was a radiant wife and mom. >> she just had a glow about her. >> doting husband, two kids, multimillion-dollar house on the beach. then came the mess tri-. an intruder bent on murder. >> it just sucks the eemg s thet of you. two loving parents lost their lives. >> they died protecting each other and their kids. >> ha's the way it looks. >> a golden couple dead and down the beach another attack. >> i just couldn't believe that someone that's so sweet and nice could have such evil around her. >> two murder cases in two weeks, and no one knew why. >> wow. what are we dealing with here? are we dealing with a night
9:01 pm
stalker scenario? >> enter dateline's own team of investigators. >> this was a crime of passion. >> our law enforcement veterans sift through the clues from a man in disguise. >> he's a nervous type of person. i mean, he dropped the gun. >> to an online rendezvous. >> is there a darker side we don't know? >> can this team piece it all together? and can you help? >> a lot of times we don't catch the professionals. we're hoping to catch this guy. >> unsolved -- the gold coast killings. >> good evening. welcome to "dateline." i'm ann curry. they were like millions of other families at home on a wednesday night watching "american idol." but when a man in disguise burst into their house, nothing would ever be the same again. what followed was a crime that at first baffled detectives. tonight an unsolved case squad assembled by "dateline" weighs in. here's josh mankiewicz.
9:02 pm
>> ventura count county, califo known as the gold coast. it's one of the safest and most affluent places in the country. and between the cities of ventura and santa barbara lies a beautiful stretch of golden coastline. so perfect that campers routinely line it, drawn by the water and the glorious sunsets. and nearby nestled next to the pacific is an exclusive colony, a gated community called faria beach. >> it's a very safe area. it defies logic on why this would have happened there. >> and just steps from the oeshgs ocean, in this home lived this
9:03 pm
family. >> they loved it. that was his dream home when he moved there. >> brock's brothers john and scott. >> they lived at the beach. it was a very active, very active family. >> they were taking some surfing classes and summertime was coming up. they were with getting ready to do that, excited about that. >> since their marriage in 1995, the huestead's family fortunes had risen with brock's business. for the past decade he had owned cue tore concepts, a santa barbara wrought iron design shop. with only about a dozen employees, its reputation was built on brock's hand-drawn designs and handshake deals. a small business with big customers. he turned out wrought iron gates for high-end clients like oprah and mel gibson.
9:04 pm
three days a week davina sat at a desk just a few steps away from her husband, keeping the company books. a local beauty turned miss california pageant contestant. she was active in volunteer work and with her kids. and, in person, she was radiant. >> she just had a way about her, when she walked in she just had a glow about her that people would actually look at her and draw their attention to her. >> they lived the good life. they owned a second home a few miles up the beach where they kept their boat. they enjoyed ski vacations,-rai tickets for the l.a. lakers, but they were outgrowing this beach-front paradise. davina was pregnant again. their third child was due in the fall, a boy they would name grant. they had recently listed the home on faria beach.
9:05 pm
the price? $3.2 million. >> would you say your brother and davina were rich? >> of course they were rich by virtue of the type of people they are and the love they had for each other. they they were well-off. >> did they wear it on their sleeve? >> he bought his cars used. he had one set of golf clubs. >> this wasn't someone dripping with wealth that anybody could see? >> no. they were people who live lived at the beach and they lived like people who lived at the beach. >> but in the early morning hours of may 21, 2009, word came that something had happened in that perfect life at the beach. >> i received a call a little after 4:00 in the morning. you wake up from a dead sleep, you're not too sure what was going on. they asked who i was and if this was john huestead. i said, yes. that's when they proceeded to tell me that unfortunately your brother brock and your sister-in-law were murdered
9:06 pm
earlier that evening. and you just go numb. >> what police told the family was that sometime around 10:00 p.m. the night before a man in a motorcycle helmet had burst into the huestead home and just minutes later brock and davina lay dead on the floor of their bedroom. thankfully, their two wiyoung children were not hurt, escaping after the attack through a bathroom window and alerting a neighbor who called 911. >> i'm grateful to god that those children are okay. >> it's got to be very tough to take. >> there's so much sadness about this that there's not much room for anger. it just -- it just sucks the emotion out of you. >> this is the channel 4 news. >> investigators are looking for a suspect and a motive in the murders of a couple in ventura county, a beach community at that. >> the murders in this magnificent ocean front enclave hit the airwaves all over
9:07 pm
southern california. >> breaking news, a brutal double murder is under investigation. >> it was a shocking crime, a husband and wife stabbed to death in their beach-front home. >> a man in a motorcycle helmet and dark jumpsuit. that's all police have to go on. >> the people who lived in and around faria beach were in shock, scared that a killer could return. >> everybody seems to be worried that we don't know what the cause is. as far as whether it was a random deal or a targeted one with. >> it's one of those things no matter where you go something could happen, too. >> just feel horrible for the kids and, you know, this will leave its mark up here for a long time. >> ventura county authorities sought to calm public jitters. >> if you're going to leave your doors open late at night, that may be something you want to consider not doing because it could happen anywhere. >> what happened to brock and davina huestead? who could have killed this
9:08 pm
mother and father who seemed to have it all? and why? >> there's no obvious reason why. this family would have drawn a killer to them at 10:30 in the evening while they're watching "american idol." comie ining up -- inside the investigation. >> something took place between the suspect and davina. >> who might have killed this golden couple? clues emerge from a crucial witness, their young son. [ male announcer ] at toyota, we care about your safety.
9:09 pm
that's why we're investing one million dollars every hour... to improve our technology and your safety. it's an investment that's helped toyota earn multiple top safety pick awards for 2010 by the insurance institute for highway safety. no other brand has won more. these top safety picks, and all our new safety innovations are available at toyota.com/safety. introducing the refreshingnd fragrance of island escape..ns with hints of sun warmed fig and mango. find it in the new relaxing moments collection from glade. s.c. johnson. a family company.
9:10 pm
[ horn honks ] get me to the airport, and don't step on it. ♪ congress and main, and i'm not in a hurry. [ male announcer ] the big, bold taste of the angus third pounder and the classic taste of the big mac. so much flavor, you'll want to take your time with them. whatever you do, don't make that light. [ male announcer ] the simple joy of burgers. ♪
9:11 pm
on this stunning stretch of california's gold coast, a family's multimillion-dollar dream home lay blood-tained and empty. brock and davina husted were
9:12 pm
dead, their unborn son, a boy they planned to name grant, died with them. two other children, aged 11 and 9, survived the attack unharmed but were now without parents. >> it's not that you're looking for any sort of justification, but you are looking for justice. >> brock's brothers scott and john husted sat down with "dateline" just a month after the murders. they were leading the family's effort to find out who committed the murders and why. >> sure you'd prefer that this crime be solved as opposed to not solved. but it's not like that turns back the clock. >> i think there's still a person out there that walked into a family's home in the middle of the evening in an environment that they should have for all other reasons be safe and that person is still out there, walking around and
9:13 pm
other families are subject to this until that person is taken off the streets. >> ventura county sheriff's detectives went to work searching inside the faria beach colony. many of the houses here are unoccupied second homes so if burglary was the motive, the man in the motorcycle helmet could have found literally dozens of empty houses to ransack. but the killer did not. in fact, very early on authorities announced that the murders of brock and davina husted were no random act. >> we have a few home invasion robberies in this county. very rarely do those turn into homicides. >> captain ross of the ventura county sheriff's department. anything else doesn't fit with the random theory? >> there wasn't signs of ransacking. there wasn't, you know, a sign of a huge struggle in terms of stuff being thrown all over the room or anything like that.
9:14 pm
>> and, as investigators attempted to reconstruct the events surrounding the murders, they had a powerful witness, the husted's 9-year-old son who had seen nearly everything except the actual killing. the boy told detectives he was watching "american idol" in the living room. >> the winner of "american idol" -- >> his mother just steps away in the kitchen. when a man carrying a gun burst in from the oceanfront deck through these unlocked double doors. >> he didn't even have to open a screen or sliding thing. just walked right in wearing a black motorcycle helmet, dark jumpsuit. something took place between the suspect and davina. >> meaning that they knew each other or she's saying to him, get the hell out of here? >> there's nothing that the boy told us that made us believe
9:15 pm
that she knew him. >> sources close to the investigation tell "dateline" that brock husted came into the kitchen and living area when he heard his wife scream. later he told his son to go get his money clip. sources say brock routinely carried up to $1,000 in cash in that clip. then the boy told police that he saw the killer's gun on the floor in the hallway. so at some point being for reasons that are still not clear, the killer ended up with a knife, the eventual murder weapon. apparently taken from the husteds' kitchen. and, from there, investigators say, the killer and the couple all ended up just a few yards away in the master bedroom. >> either he forced her or she ran back to a room where ultimately brock and davina were stabbed to death. the bodies were almost side by
9:16 pm
side. >> the murder weapon was not a knife that the killer brought in with him. it was something he found in the house. >> the murder weapon was a knife that we have. that's officially what i can tell you. >> in addition to the knife, which was found sourceses say on the bed, another important clue. after killing brock and davina, the man in the motorcycle helmet ran back out the door and stumbled over this vase, breaking it. then he fell onto this hot tub, leaving some trace of his crime, blood or other dna evidence. >> you brought in search dogs? >> right. >> the dogs picked up a scent from the house up to the highway. >> right. right. >> suggesting that the killer did not leave by the closest escape routes. in one direction the open, deserted beach, in the other, the nearby faria beach state park campground. but, instead, most likely he made his escape by running back around the house, crossing the
9:17 pm
street, making his way through a shadowy vacant lot, and then leaving from the highway. backing that up? authorities found witnesses who heard two motorcycles leaving about that time. but why would a person or persons want to kill brock and davina husted? that is still a mystery. coming up -- the unsolved case squad delves into the clues. >> what does it tell you that davina was stabbed more times than her husband? >> she's a mother. she' going to fight to the end. >> just down the beach, another house, another victim, another deadly puzzle. >> who in the world would with want to hurt a woman like her? that's the question at the center.
9:18 pm
9:19 pm
9:20 pm
9:21 pm
the murders of brock and davina husted in their multimillion-dollar beach-front home had sent waves of panic ashore on california's gold coast. and the motive seemed a mystery. >> it's conceivable that somebody just walks by, sees a nice area, thinks, i'm going to try to find an unlocked house, does it, and then something goes
9:22 pm
wrong and everything goes sideways. >> we still have all those doors open as a possibility. or ear going to find something in their past that leads us to a killer which would not support that theory. >> whatever happened, one thing was clear to his brothers. brock died protecting what he held most dear, his children and his wife. >> my brother came to her rescue, like any man would to his wife that was in distress. two loving parents did what they needed to do to help their children and help each other. and it ended up that both of them lost their lives. >> they died protecting each other and their kids. >> that's the way it looks. >> did brock ever express any concern about security and living at the beach? >> never. never at all. his back door was open. doors were with unlocked. >> i've got to ask this. how was their marriage? >> their marriage was good. i never once saw them have an argument. in all the years i knew them
9:23 pm
together. >> davina was very attractive. she never mentioned somebody was following her or somebody was pastoring her or anything like that? >> they never expressed any concern about any sort of stalker. no concerns. >> and they would have told you about that. that's not the kind of thing they would have kept to themselves. >> no doubt in my mind. he would have said something. he never did. >> they didn't owe anybody any substantial amount of money. >> they didn't owe anybody any money. >> there's always the possibility there's secrets people's lives that are not readily apparent. that's our job, not to find those and publicize them but to see if that can help solve a murder. >> you think you're looking for one guy. >> well, in terms of who entered that house and who did the killing, yes. whether there's somebody behind it we don't know. >> sheriff's investigators quickly raised the prospect of a professional hit. but, if it was a hit of some kind, why kill the parents but leave the children? after all, they were possible
9:24 pm
witnesses. >> there's a good chance the suspect didn't believe that he could be identified by the kids. >> that's why he left them alive. >> i think that's a strong possibility. >> but it turned out the big surprise in this investigation, if the husteds were targeted by their killer, was who detectives believe that target might have been. if the plan was not to rob them but to kill them, who was the primary target? >> that's what's kind of intriguing. i can't get into the how many stab wounds each victim had, but -- >> 1 of them received a lot more than the other. >> yeah. davina, it sure seems to me like there's a lot of violence perpetrated against her that really makes you shake your head. you would suspect that it was either someone who had some extreme anger or was hired by
9:25 pm
somebody to make a statement. >> brock and davina husted had been dead for just six weeks when "date line's" unsolved case squad came together to look at the facts. nbc news consultants dwayne stanton, retired homicide detective from washington, d.c., investigated shandra levy's murder. yolanda, crime scene investigator in las vegased and a model for the character on the hit series "csi." allen jackson, prosecutor in los angeles, put legendary record producer phil spector behind bars for murder. investigators have thrown out a bunch of different theories, from planned, organized, deliberate murder to random robbery that somehow went sideways. what do you guys think? >> there's two different ways to look at this crime of opportunity. burglar sees the lights on and
9:26 pm
goes and hits the house. finds the couple at home and decides being i've got to take them out. or a planned victimization, things get out of control, they end up dead. >> i just don't believe that someone was casually walking down the beach through all of these huge rocks and looks over and sees a light on in a house and says, let me go over here and commit a burglary. it it just doesn't make sense to me. >> so this was somebody who, for whatever reason, wanted to go to the husted home in particular. >> yes. >> they had business to do with the husteds, no question. >> 100%. >> absolutely. >> it just doesn't make sense otherwise. someone would have to park outside the gate, hop a fence, make their way down an empty lot and to the front of the house and then around to the back of the house. that doesn't suggest to me easy pickins.
9:27 pm
what it does suggest to me is the person that walked in that back door knew that they were going to confront brock and davina. >> what does it tell you that davina was stabbed more times than her husband? >> you have to remember she's a mother. she's got two children in this house. she's going to fight to the end to defend them if nothing else. so the fact that she has more wounds isn't really surprising to me. >> what about the idea that this was someone who maybe hadn't killed before? >> it's possible. >> so this guy walks in calmly, but he runs out after committing these two murders. >> right. that suggests, again, that this is not necessarily a highly polished professional hit man. >> not taking the knife with you also sort of suggests a sort of rookie criminal. >> bumbling idiot. >> yes, he's nervous. at this point, who wouldn't be? so he runs over that, trips over the hot tub, and now some of the critical points come into play. how many profiles hopefully can
9:28 pm
we get on that dna? >> right. >> how many people show up, drop their intended weapon, whatever they want to do with it, end up you using another weapon, which they then leave there. >> yes. >> you trip coming out of the door. >> if this guy is a hired hit man, he's not worth the money. >> shouldn't be paid much money. >> no. >> our team did not agree on everything. was the killer a pro or an amateur? was he there to send a message and was the killer someone the couple knew? investigators were asking many of the same questions. but you before detectives could get far in their investigation, two weeks to the day after brock and davina husted were murdered, came word of another killing. >> more mysterious coincidences are coming to light in the stabbing death cases of a faria beach couple and a ventura keys woman. >> a killing with striking similarities. nine miles down the coast from faria beach in another
9:29 pm
neighborhood known as ventura keys. the victim? wendy, a licensed therapist with a phd in psychology. she had been stabbed to death in the home where she was living temporarily with her elderly parents after wendy's bitter divorce. she was killed just two days after her birthday. wendy was 61. >> it's pretty unusual where you have two stabbing deaths and where you have a lot of common elements. >> two bloody murders in just two weeks had ventura law enforcement answering some tough questions. >> we're not calling it a serial killing whatsoever at this point. as far as we know, it could be a number of different things. >> who in the world would want to hurt a woman like her? that's the question with of tof. it doesn't make any sense. coming up -- a therapist and author looking for love, but that's not what
9:30 pm
she found. >> i just couldn't believe that someone that's so sweet and nice could have such evil around her. >> what was behind murder mystery number two?
9:31 pm
9:32 pm
9:33 pm
three murders in two weeks had many people wondering what was going on in ventura county. brock and davina husted and wendy derodeo, all stabbed to death in the privacy of their own homes. wendy's friends rick harmon, sylvia sykes and john dixon were stunned by her death. >> i just couldn't believe that someone that's so sweet and nice could have such evil around her. >> sweet was how everyone described wendy. the love of her life seemed to
9:34 pm
be swing dancing. she taught lessons at twice-weekly gatherings like these and had just bought a house in santa barbara to become even closer to the swing dance community there. >> tell me about wendy and dancing. >> what i enjoyed about her approach was, no matter who she was dancing with, if they were a beginner, if they were not very skilled, if they were really an advanced dancer, she treated them equally. it's not a put-on thing like, i'm supposed to pretend this is cool. she just felt a joy in connecting with somebody and dancing with them, whatever the experience was. >> sources close to the investigation tell "dateline" that wendy went to bed sometime after 9:00 p.m. on tuesday, june 2nd. her elderly mother didn't become concerned until the next afternoon when wen widy's bedro door remained closed. that's when her mother entered wendy's locked bedroom to find her daughter's body on the bed
9:35 pm
with multiple stab wounds. wendy had probably been murdered in the middle of the night. detectives investigating the derodeo murder found no sign of sexual assault or forred entry. nothing was missing from her bedroom and neighbors didn't hear anything suspicious except for maybe a little more barking than usual from wendy's two small dogs. investigators for the ventura police department quickly called in detectives from the sheriff's department to check out similarities with the husted murders two weeks earlier. >> wow. you have a female victim, late night, multiple stab wounds. what are we dealing with here? are we dealing with a night stalker scenario, a homicidal maniac on the loose in the community? >> the biggest surprise in the derodeo murder investigation came when a key detail emerged. who owned a second home, a rental property just blocks away from where wendy was murdered? who kept their boat moored
9:36 pm
perhaps 400 feet aa from the crime scene? just down the block from the home where wendy was killed? the answer? brock and davina husted. >>'s not enough right now that we can say that's this, it's the same suspect. we can't say that. but it's an open door. we're still working on it. >> it was eerie, you know, in terms of you could throw a rock from derodeo's house to husteds' boat. >> in fact, this photo you've already seen of the husteds in formal wear was taken right here at that second home near wendy derodeo's where the husteds kept their boat in ventura keys. >> but that's a hell of a coincidence. >> i know. exactly what you said. but what do you do with that? >> did wendy derodeo know either brock or davina husted? the answer seems to be no. but did they have friends in common? did they spend time at the same places? investigators were with ttrying
9:37 pm
answer those questions and more. detectives did find leads in wendy derodeo's personal and professional life. in the 1990s while working as a therapist, she had been forced to take out a restraining order against a former patient who had reportedly stalked derodeo. that suspect was quickly investigated and then we're told ruled out. and with no obvious motive of burglary or a sexual assault, detectives had to consider that wendy derodeo may have been killed by someone she knew rather than, as the early rumor around town had it, by a killer who was randomly picking his victims. >> i thought of it at one with point maybe it was someone she dated had a jealous ex-girlfriend or some jealous woman maybe. >> was she the kind of woman who attracted a lot of attention from men? >> she was a very attractive woman. she was very smart. so she probably was very aracketive to some men and also pretty scary to a lot of others. >> in fact, wendy had a
9:38 pm
particular type of guy she was attracted to. younger, handsome, and, if you wanted to date wendy, it helped if you were from brazil. and ventura police almost immediately went looking for a younger brazilian man whom wendy had dated in the months before her death. he worked as a caregiver to wendy's parents so he had intimate knowledge of their home. >> you met him. >> yeah. he seemed to be pleasant. he would crack jokes, he would smile. he came dance after dance after dance with with her. all of a sudden he wasn't showing up. i said, where is mr. brazil? she said, gone. i said, do you want to talk about it? no. okay. >> sources tell "dateline" in the weeks before the murder mr. brazil was trying to patch things up with wendy, leading to suspicious that he might have been involved. now sources say he's been ruled out as a suspect. >> i know she would talk about going out with this guy or that guy and it never seemed to work.
9:39 pm
she always wondered why. i remember one with time she said, what is it i have to learn here? >> what's the answer to what she had to learn? what was she doing wrong? >> i really don't know. >> paradox ickally, the divorced, no longer practicing couples therapist who couldn't find the right relationship for herself had written a book for the lovelorne called "relationships illuminated" choosing your way to love. wendy had hired a publicist and was starting a web site. >> sounds like an odd book to write by someone who admits that they weren't very good at relationships. >> well, after she had it published i told her i wanted a copy. she said, i'll give you the book. she wrote something in it for me and she was talking about relationships and not finding happiness. when i sewed, i have a book for you to read. i held it up for her. she just laughed. >> but in the weeks before her death, things were actually looking up. she was ready to move to santa
9:40 pm
barbara and she had met a new man from brazil online at a site called livemocha.com where she was learning brazilian portugue portuguese. they were already talking marriage. >> she seemed nothing but kind of up about the book and the house and learning portuguese and dancing. it seemed to me that she felt like she was on an up cycle instead of down cycle. >> this is someone who had a lot to look forward to. >> absolutely. >> three murders within two weeks and inside of ten miles. what was the connection? or was there even a link at all? comie ining up -- >> this was a crime of passion. >> this was someone she knew. >> the unsolved case squad weighs in. what is the likelihood those two murders are connected? cockledoodledooooo!
9:41 pm
9:42 pm
i do 22 more inspections than the government requires. and my fresh, all-natural chickens are never given any hormones or steroids. ♪ ...and no candy, gladys. [ clucks ] [ male announcer ] perdue. extra inspections... extraordinary chicken. host: could switching to geico 15% or more on car insurance? host: does elmer fudd have trouble with the letter r? elmer: shhhh, be very quiet; i'm hunting wabbits. director (o/c): ok cut!!!! uh...it's i'm hunting "rabbits," elmer. let's try that again. elmer: shhhh, i'm hunting wabbits. director (o/c): cuuuuut! rabbits. elmer: wabbits director (o/c): rabbits. elmer: wabbits. director (o/c): rabbits with an "r." elmer: aw...this diwector's starting to wub me the wong way. vo: geico. 15 minutes could save you 15% or more.
9:43 pm
9:44 pm
in ventura county, california, an uneasy undertow had clutched at residents as the summer sun appeared. in late may 2009, brock and davina husted had been stabbed to death in their multimillion-dollar home at faria beach. two weeks later author and therapist wendy derodeo had been stabbed to death at this home she shared with her elderly parents, which was oddly just blocks away from another home owned by the husteds. and the slip where the husteds moored their boat. investigators were working leads. so you're presented with the possibility but not the assumption that they're connected.
9:45 pm
>> yeah. i think that's accurate. >> now our unsolved case squad, a prosecutor, detective, and criminalist had three murders to deal with. let's talk about wendy's murder a little bit. no sign of burglary, no sign of sexual assault. what does that tell you guys? >> this was a crime of passion. they weren't there to steal. >> right. >> they weren't there to rape. they weren't there to ransack the house. >> this was someone she knew. >> this was someone she knew and someone who wanted her dead specifically. >> do you think that person entered wendy' house that night knowing that they were going to commit a murder? >> all the suggestions lead that direction. >> apparently she liked guys from brazil. she belonged to a couple of different web sites where you can meet brazilian men. >> and, of course, anytime the idea of cruising the internet comes up bei comes, you have to follow up you
9:46 pm
on any of those people. >> you have no idea who you're meeting. >> ostensibly these guys are staingers. it' important to follow up you on every one of them. >> obviously there are a lot of signs that suggest a similarity at least between wendy's murder and the husteds' murders. both happened at night. both involve somebody entering the home after dark. both of them committed with a knife. and both of them pretty close to each other geographically on a long stretch of beach. what's the likelihood that those two murders are connected? >> there's nothing to suggest that this was a serial killer. >> nothing at all. >> i think everybody would agree. >> right. >> the location. one heck of a coincidence. >> you don't think they're related. >> i don't think they're related. >> the only connection is the knife and you have to remember in our first one you that wasn't what he brought to use. he brought a gun. >> right. >> the knife inadvertently got used. so if we take that out of the equation, they really have nothing in common.
9:47 pm
>> so if wendy derodeo was most likely killed by someone she knew and if her murder was not related except by geography and timing to the murders of brock and davina husted, then who killed brock and davina? who was the man in the motorcycle helmet who carried a gun into the husteds' beachhome on that may evening in 2009, lost control of his weapon, and then killed brock and davina in a knife fight while their children kaucowered behind a cld door just a few feet away? if he wasn't connected to the derodeo killing, then who was he? and what brought him to that beach house at exactly the right time with the door open and no one there to protect them? their defenses down, at the end of a long day. based on what we know about the husted murders, what can you tell us about that killer?
9:48 pm
>> not a professional. >> no, not a professional. probably under the age of 40. we know a little bit about what he looked like. he's got a dark complexion, blue or green eyes. >> possibly rides a motorcycle. >> maybe. >> probably. >> probably owns a gun. >> more than likely has a criminal history. this is probably not his first rodeo, as they say. >> nope. >> no. >> somebody with a connection to the seedier side of ventura county. this person was not from san francisco. this person was not from los angeles or san diego. this is a local person. somebody who's familiar with the area. >> but i think he's a nervous type of person. i mean, he dropped the gun. >> right. he never had control over them. >> if he's not nervous, he's inept. >> right. right. >> and it turned out the unsolved case squad was correct. as our team suspected, the murders apparently were unrelated. months after our squad members
9:49 pm
gathered to discuss the killings, there was a stunning and sudden break in one of the investigations. >> i'm here to announce an arrest has been made. >> a suspect in the case. who is it and how did they catch him? and later -- in our second hour, the secrets in the suitcase. >> she was fun. she was happy. >> popular, pretty. she was the girl in the yellow camaro right out of school she married her sweetheart. he was the one who found her. >> my wife's been skikilled. please hurry. >> a young wife dead on the bedroom floor. >> i want to know why, why. >> who could have killed her? there were plenty of whispers with about a marriage on the rocks and a husband under a cloud. >> hearsay and gossip and lies. >> for decades it went unsolved, a mystery. then they opened it, a lime
9:50 pm
green suitcase, and no one was prepared for what happened afterward. >> just my mind was spinning. >> a detective, a sister, both bent on justice. after almost 30 years, could they get it?
9:51 pm
9:52 pm
9:53 pm
the victims were gone, but the mystery wore on. months after the murders of brock and davina mu hus husted murder of wendy dirodio.
9:54 pm
investigators were with pursuing separate leads but made no arrests. tests were with under way on physical evidence found at the crime scenes, including that blood or other dna evidence left by the killer on the deck and hot tub cover at the husted home. >> i'm never going to accept that it won't ever be solved. at some point in time, something, somebody will solve this. it may take time to solve it, more time than i have to solve it, but i will never accept that it won't be solved. >> and then, nearly a year after the murders, came the break investigators and the husted family had been looking for. >> i'm here to announce that after ten months of exhaustive investigation an arrest has been made in what was one of the most tragic multiple homicides in the history of ventura county. >> in april 2010 the ventura county sheriff announced a suspect was finally in custody. just as our team members
9:55 pm
predicted -- >> this is a local person, somebody who's familiar with the area. >> the suspect, 20-year-old joshua graham packer, was from ventura and the former football player at ventura high, now an unemployed security guard, again, captured just as our team guessed -- >> how many profiles hopefully can we get on that dna? >> due to dna left behind. not only on the body of brock husted but also reportedly on a visor from a motorcycle helmet left at the scene. and on the back deck of the house where the killer tripped and fell while fleeing the murders. detectives also tied packer to the crime, after finding in his possession items stolen from the husted home. packer was charged with three counts of murder for the deaths of brock, davina, and their unborn son. he's not yet entered a plea and could face the death penalty. detectives got their big break
9:56 pm
after packer was charged with robbing this gas station in santa barbara. he had to give a dna sample. thanks to a change in california law, requiring samples to be collected after a felony arrest, rather than after a conviction. packer's dna was then entered into a database, which spit out the match that broke the husted case. >> this was solved purely on a dna database hit so i do not believe he would be in custody at this point without that law being changed. >> authorities say packer does not appear to know the husted family or anyone connected to them. but they're still investigating why he chose that house and whether the husteds were targeted specifically. the motive? still unknown. >> these kind of cases where you have no obvious link between the suspect and the victim and no obvious murderer are the most difficult kinds of cases to work. >> packer was also arrested on
9:57 pm
drug possession charges just a week before being picked up for murder. in addition, ventura police say he's a suspect in at least four more armed robberies. brock's brother scott says that with packer behind bars the family can now breathe easier. >> i tell you there's just so much sadness in our hearts people say, aren't you angry? i can't get angry. i'm just so sad. i'm just so sad. it doesn't matter -- it doesn't matter who. there was never going to be a reason. we never believed there was going to be a reason that made sense. this doesn't make sense. >> but while detectives believe one high-profile murder has been solved, another killer remains on the loose. wendy dirodio's family and friends are still waiting for answers. >> if there was something going on, she wasn't sharing that with anybody that i know of. it's sort of like a page from
9:58 pm
somebody else's script accidentally got inserted into her life. >> and writing an ending to that script is the reason we convened a team of veteran investigators who have together worked hundreds of homicides to bring their experience to bear on these perplexing killings. to the extent we can, let's profile wendy's killer. >> probably a man? >> probably. >> probably a man. >> it's hard to kill somebody with a knife. >> you need strength. >> i'm thinking maybe younger since ainvolved, not a gun. >> no forced entry suggesting that she let the person in. >> exactly. >> or the person had a key. >> absolutely. >> you hear her friends talk about wendy and they talk about this wonderful, vivacious woman, loved to dance, and everyone loved her. except the person that she let into her house who killed her. >> clearly. >> took her life. >> and her killer may have
9:59 pm
really loved her. you just don't know. it's unfortunate, but people who love people kill them sometimes. >> two murder cases. one police say they've solved while the other remains as baffling as it is brutal. murdered in her own home in the dead of night. >> our next story was also a baffling case for detectives, a crime, a suspect but not enough evidence to prove or solve it. almost three decades passed, and heartbroken loved one wus wondered if justice would ever be done. then they learned the answer what in plain sight all along. it just wasn't what anyone expected. here's keith morrison. >> they kept it in the dark, down the stairs in the basement. among the bolt cutters and the bags of white powder and the guns. the investigative leftovers of a
10:00 pm
small police department. why they chose a lime green suitcase for it is beyond knowing now. but he'd see it down there every time he filed a piece of evidence, tucked in, all but forgotten behind a door frame like a silent accusation. >> there it kind of sat in that room staring at you. >> yes. yes, for years. >> in fact, since about the time brad benson got his start in the woods cross police department. >> i was always intrigued by this case because it was a cold case, homicide that had never been solved. >> the lime green mystery. inside that suitcase the original, just like this one with, was quite possibly all the evidence required to put a murderer away for life. if he opened it, god knows what would come slithering out, though he never guessed just how bizarre it would turn out to be. back in the summer of 1980, it seemed frankly like one with ofe
10:01 pm
murders that happened all too commonly in other cities, though surely not here. brad benson was a rookie, a reserve officer in a town that only rarely needed much of a police department. >> i was kind of shocked quite frankly that we had something like that in the woods cross area. i had only been there a couple of years but i never ma xrined we'd be investigating a homicide. >> murder in woods cross, unheard of. >> yes, unheard of. that was our very first homicide, as a matter of fact. >> woods cross was busily growing up from the fringe of salt lake city, middle class, studded mostly with mormon churches and prided itself on being a safe place to live. that's why people moved here. so it was a shock that very first time woods cross encountered murder. it was the 6th of june 1980. a friday morning. >> oh, my god! this is 1653 south -- 1200 --
10:02 pm
1200 west 1653 south. in woods cross. my i've's been killed! i just got home from work. >> the event stands out in the collective memory here. >> okay. i'll -- what's your name? >> steve strom. please! please hurry. >> steve strom was an overnight shift worker at a local aerospace parts company. so it was just before 8:00 a.m. he told first responders when he came home to find his wife's body. she had been severely beaten, the furniture in their bedroom pushed around as if in a violent struggle. >> i was at work, and my stepmother had called me and she says, karen's dead. i just said, what? she goes, karen's dead. i said, she can't be. i just talked to her. >> karen strom's cisco co-rusis rushed to the crime scene.
10:03 pm
>> i knew it was a crime scene, but, god, i just wanted to hold her so bad. then they brought her body out, and you're in such shock. you're, like, she can't be in there. no, that's not my sister. she's not in there. and then they took her away. >> did you ever get a chance to hold her? >> no. no. >> then the whole town got to know about coco's big sister karen, how pretty she was, how full of life and potential, how young. just 25 when someone got into her bedroom, tore the place apart and strangled the life out of her. what earthly reason would anyone have for killing karen strom? >> she was fun. she was happy. she was -- she had a lot of friends. she was just you -- she was a good soul. >> but, even before that awful day came to an end, some friends of steve and karen strom felt like she knew what must have
10:04 pm
happened. >> i received a telephone call from my husband. what he said to me was, well, it finally happened. steve finally killed her. >> steve killed her? >> my wife's been killed. i just got home from work. >> was his frantic voice on that 911 call the equivalent of crying crocodile tears? brad benson remember was a rookie back then, didn't take part in the investigation. but, before long, his colleagues seemed to feel that steve was indeed the murderer. and they had their reasons. >> well, there was some reports of domestic violence in his past. >> in fact, it turned out, karen had left steve. why was she even in the house that night? a couple of months after karen's death, steve was arrested and charged with his wife's murder. what did steve strom do?
10:05 pm
>> well, of course, he denied being involved. he denied it. he fought the case tooth and nail. >> and those investigators remained convinced that their man was steve. >> yes. >> but, as the trial approached back at the beginning of the 1980ss, none of the evidence from that chaotic bedroom murder scene could be tested for dna. the technology just didn't exist then. what they had instead was a circumstantial case, the testimony of friends and family who would say that steve was sometimes verbally and possibly physically abusive. but karen wanted out. >> there was black eyes and bruises that were iite itwitnes co-workers and friends. >> but it wasn't enough. the judge dismissed the charges and released steve strom to go on about his life. strom lost his friends, his credibility, perhaps only this friend still believed in him. >> i mean, everybody was saying,
10:06 pm
you did it, you did it, you did it, you did it. you know? and they chased him. they followed him everywhere he went. >> cops? >> yep. i was with him. >> and that was that. nobody satisfied. certainly not karen's sister coco who believed in her heart, like so many others, that steve had gotten away with murder. and that she decided could not stand. her big sister had been there for her growing up and now coco would do what she could to fight for justice. >> 27 years. >> 27 years and it never left your mind? >> how could it? it's shocking and it's your sister. somebody you love dearly. it's, like, you go and think about it and then you give up and then it's there again. you know, it never goes away. >> just like the lime green suitcase. through all that evidence felt no emotion at all as it sat
10:07 pm
there gathering dust all those years. but now as he contemplated imminent retirement, brad benson, now a detective sergeant, had come to believe or to hope, at least, that new technologies would finally give mute evidence a voice and make the case that couldn't be made back in 1980. >> we're pretty confident that if there is dna it will come back to somebody that we are familiar with. >> but you know what they say about assumptions. because, as benson was about to discover, just beneath that apparently obvious surface was a very strange story indeed. coming up -- >> wow, maybe something's really going to happen this time. >> old evidence yields new clues. where would they lead? to a place nobody in woods cross would have thought.
10:08 pm
10:09 pm
10:10 pm
10:11 pm
it was june 2006. 26 years almost to the day since coco's sister karen strom was murdered in woods cross, utah. the crime had never been solved. though some evidence at the time seemed to point toward karen's husband steve strom and who knows why these things come about, coco happened to be in
10:12 pm
utah to attend a funeral. she happened to be driving through woods cross and, on a whim really, decided to stop at the local police department to ask what finally happened to that case. >> i said, where do i find information on a homicide that's never -- >> she said, oh, do you mean karen? i said, you people are freaking me out. >> within minutes, coco was on the phone with brad benson. >> he said, you want to know ha's funny? i said, oh, please. he said, i took her case out six months ago and looking at it again. >> just coincidence, of course, wasn't it? >> and i thought, wow. i says, maybe something's really going to happen this time. >> by this time, benson had followed a trail around the corner of the storage room from the suitcase to a makeshift plywood shelf where he discovered boxes and boxes chockful of evidence. >> they had fingernails that they didn't know what they contained back then.
10:13 pm
>> but they saved them any way. >> they saved them. consequently they became one with of the best piouses of evidence that we had. >> benson sent those preserved fingernails off to the lab along with other testable pieces of evidence. and then, as he and coco waited for the results, benson continued to dig into the murder file and into the life of karen strom. what happened to make her a target of somebody's murderous rage? ♪ pretty eyes she was born in salt lake city, utah, an eldest daughter. coc's big sister. and in this state in some ways she was distinctly unusual. >> we grew up catholic in utah. my dad's side of the family was mormon. my mom was catholic. >> so you knew what it was to be a minority. >> absolutely. absolutely.
10:14 pm
>> and she was popular and pretty, a natural dancer who once in high school was rarely without a date on a saturday night. and when she got her first car, her adored yellow camaro, life couldn't get any better. >> she move love eloved that ca. i loved that car. we used to go riding, just cruising in that car. that car was -- she was so happy when she got that. >> that she got married so soon, just 18, and right out of high school seemed reasonable at the time. at least to coco it did. >> living in utah? >> kind of happens, huh? >> that was nothing new. i just figured, well, karen did it, too, you know? >> she and steve strom were in love, after all. >> i didn't know steve that well. he didn't talk, very quiet. >> this is karen's high school friend melody fairborn. >> she really did love him, and
10:15 pm
enjoyed his company. >> but then it was about seven years in when the bad times started to outweigh the good. the problem said melody was steve who could be, she said, a mean drunk. >> when he would start drinking, he would start verbally degrading her. >> and there had been rumors of some physical abuse. perhaps for that reason, maybe something else, karen decided to file for divorce, even though -- >> she loved him. >> really? even though she wanted to leave him? she loved him? >> uh-huh. i know. yeah, i know. but she did. she loved him. >> so it was complicated. karen seemed to move on, started seeing someone else. >> i was thinking that she had finally broken away. >> but, just over a month after she filed her divorce papers,
10:16 pm
karin returned to the house in woods cross. her puzzled friends assumed it must be temporary, a good-bye visit. but an happy steve told his friend it was all going to work out. >> he was happy she was coming back because he loved her. i mean, when she was gone, he was down in the dumps. >> just miserable about it. >> yeah. >> on june 5, 1980, the records show karin and steve spent the evening together, ate out, returned home. then just after midnight, 12:15 a.m., steve left to go to work the graveyard shift at an aerospace parts company. steve told police how karin walked him to his car, all lovie dove vi, then said good night and walked back into the house. she passed her yellow camaro passed in the driveway and closed the door. he claimed he kauld her to wake her up for work. no answer. called again, let the phone ring 20 times, still no answer.
10:17 pm
so he clocked out about 7:30 the morning of the 6th and drove home. karen's camaro was still parked in the driveway when he arrived. or that was his story, at least. >> my wife's been killed. i just got home from work. >> what's your name? >> steve strom. please! >> steve strom? >> steve strom. please hurry! >> and now all these yearses later detective benson read about his colleagues' frustrated attempts to mount a case against steve strom and waited with karin's sister coco for results of dna tests. waited to be able to say, finally, got him. coming up -- >> he said coco, the dna came back. are you ready for this? >> the test results are in and those theories out. a mysterious suspect emergeses in the murder of karin strom. when "dateline" continues.
10:18 pm
10:19 pm
10:20 pm
10:21 pm
around woods cross, utah,
10:22 pm
and among the suburbs and the city on the shores of the great salt lake, the story of karin strom was ancient history now, an artifact long lost to public memory. there was just the green suitcase, the soon-to-retire detective, and the one person for whom a burning need lived on every day for more than a quarter century, karin's sister coco. how important as it for you to find out what happened? >> very. because i want to know why. why would you take somebody so beautiful? she wasn't raped. you know, it wasn't a robbery. they just plain killed her. it's, like, why? >> and, of course, who? what happened behind that bedroom window here in this middle class neighborhood in the summer of 1980 is not really in doubt and wasn't from the beginning. there was a violent struggle. that was obvious. and a woman was dead, strangled. a little checking revealed there was no forced entry to the
10:23 pm
house. a little more checking indicated that this was a woman in the middle of marital discord. and so the answers to the questions who did this thing and why seemed perhaps to have fairly obvious answers. what was your assessment then as to what probably happened that night? >> i believed there was some sort of a domestic dispute and that things had gotten out of hand and that's what led to her death. >> and everything in the case file certainly seemed to back up that point of view. was there anything else that went to motive as far as steve was concerned? >> nothing other than the divorce that was currently going on. it sounded to me like she may be leaving him for another man. >> ah, so jealousy comes into play. >> yes. >> couldn't do anything about it, though. >> back then we didn't have dna so, short a confession, there wasn't really anything they could do.
10:24 pm
>> but now there were with those fingernails. the chaos in the bedroom where she was murdered made it obvious that karin had fought back and unknowingly retrieved his dna profile. benson spoke to steve strom now in his 50ss to let him know that he reopened karin's case. would steve provide a sample of his dna. >> i told steve that if he came up and provided those samples, it could do as much good eliminating him as a suspect as it could actually pointing the finger at him. >> he agreed and within 48 hours drove to utah from his current home in nevada and freely gave up a sample of his dna. but was he worried? oh, yes, he was said his friend dick. >> he says, they're going to try to hang me again. they just were focuseslkecused
10:25 pm
him. they wouldn't let go. >> less than two weeks benson supplied the samples, a result. and benson looked at the name and -- >> well, i was a little confused at first. >> confused? once benson absorbed the news, he picked up the phone and called karin's sister. >> he goes, are you ready for this? he said, the dna came back. i said, it did? he goes, ed owens. i said, who is ed owens? >> and suddenly what once seemed a case of tying up old loose ends had been blown wide open. coming up -- >> i just want to know why. >> what really happened that night in the bedroom? a mysterious suspect faces new charges, but there's another twist ahead. >> you're not going to believe what we just found.
10:26 pm
10:27 pm
10:28 pm
10:29 pm
funny thing about public
10:30 pm
attitudes. how a common suspicion can harden over time into something like received truth. those few who still remember the 1980 murder of karin strom had 2 1/2 decades to solidify their suspicions of husband steve. now dna revealed that cells underneath karin's fingernails belonged to someone else altogether. belonged to ed owens. >> i had no idea who he was. my doesnfamily doesn't know him. the only association to ed owens is steve. >> shocking. what is the relationship between ed owens and steve? >> they worked together. >> or at least they both worked at the same machine at e systems, an aerospace parts manufacturing. ed worked the swing shift and steve took over the machine on the graveyard shift. ed was new in town and steve befriended him. >> he didn't have any friends. steve was that kind of guy, kind of take somebody under his wing because they had the same interests. they liked guns and hunting and
10:31 pm
four-wheeling and things like that. >> did he seem to like the guy? >> yeah. he thought he was pretty good. you know, a little different. >> a little different? >> yeah. he tried so hard to be your friend. he just went at it the wrong way. so they kind of thought that was weird. >> so social skills were a little defective somehow. >> yes. you just look at him and say, wow, is he playing with a full deck? >> still, something like a friendship had developed. they had gone four-wheeling together and once steve and karin took ed and his wife patricia on a double date. but really casual acquaintances. so how would ed owens' dna end up beneath karin's fingernails? good question. when detective benson went through the file, he discovered that, in fact, ed owens had drawn a mention. in the original investigation. so benson, all these years
10:32 pm
later, tracked him down. >> he was listed as a person of interest or possibly a witness, and i wanted to go over his statement and make sure we had everything correct. >> they had put him on record back then. >> yes. >> back in 1980 steve strom told police that when he arrived at work at 12:45 a.m. june 6th, ed owens wasn't there as he should have been to turn over the machine they both worked on. he finally did show up, said steve, a little after 4:00 in the morning drunk and throwing up, claiming he left work at 8:00 p.m. and went out to party at a local bar. also in the old file? statements from some of steve's co-workers who told police they saw vach scratches on ed's hands and face in the days after the murder. the cops back then even took pictures of ed, collected blood and hair samples. now that some of the dna 5 rin's fingernails turned out to be a match from that sample collected from ed owens, benson's belief about what happened the night of
10:33 pm
karin's murder took a sudden u-turn. >> i believe that it was more or less an opportunity with ed, that he had gone to the bar that night from work, at 8:00, just like the logs show, that he probably drank more than usual, and decided that he wanted to go out and -- >> get into trouble. >> get into trouble. i think he went there with the intentions of raping karin and she fought back. >> he waited until steve had gone to work. >> yes. >> and ed knew exactly the time steve went to work because their shifts overlapped. how would he get into the house, though? there was no sign of forced entry. >> well, this is little old woods cross, you know, back in 1980. a lot of people didn't lock their doors back then. there was no forced entry. he don't know if the door was locked for sure when steve left for work that night or not. >> he would have basically barged in on her and started an assault immediately. >> that's what we believe, yes.
10:34 pm
>> and created havoc as she fought back against him. >> yes. >> but why would he kill her? >> well, that would be the only way that he could be assured that the finger wouldn't be pointed back to him. >> but now, years later, the dna pointed directly at mr. owens. soon after detective benson informed owens of the case being reopened, ed left town. leaving nothing but a note behind for his wife patricia. saying things like bank account numberses. how do you explain behavior that? >> guilty person. >> then a few weeks later another surprise. ed owens showed up and turned himself in and in short order he was charged with karin's murder. >> i kind of got the gut feeling that to a certain degree he may be relieved to have this happen. >> as owens awaited his day in court, an apparently relieved
10:35 pm
steve strom willappeared briefl local tv. >> it nice they're looking at evidence instead of hearsay and gossip and lies. >> and for the first time coco began to believe she would finally understand what happened to her sister karin. will it help you to have a resolution to this case? >> oh, absolutely. and it's not how people say closing the book. >> you never close the book. >> you never close that book. but it's an understanding, and i know you never understand the universe and everything that happens in it, but with my sister i just want to know why. >> but that last bit about not understanding everything, as we spoke, she could have no idea. the trial date was close. the state's case was ready. and then michael student abaker, ed owens' defense attory was driving to work when his cell
10:36 pm
phone rang. it was his own forensic expert. >> said, you're not going to believe what we just found under the fingernails. i literally had to pull over because my mind was just spinning. coming up -- arrested, then released? what could possibly have led to that? >> we didn't expect that. that was a curveball.
10:37 pm
10:38 pm
10:39 pm
10:40 pm
it was the dna, like a legal magic wand, it seemed that test had changed everything in the karin strom murder case. and now ed owens, a man who would have escaped detection forever without dna beidna, was to go on trial for murder. then a remarkable or at least extremely curious discovery. the material under karin's fingernails was ed owens' dna, no dispute about that. the curious thing was the type of dna. it was seminal fluid. what did you think when you heard that? >> there's semen and
10:41 pm
fingernails. that sure doesn't show murder. it shows consensual relationses at best. >> ed must have had sex with karin. naturally the detective heard about the semen. his reaction was extremely different. >> i didn't believe the whole sample was semen based on the scratches that mr. owens had on his arms and hands and face. >> this was not a lovy dovy sex scene at all. >> no. it was a fight. >> and troy rawlings was taken by surprise, too. he was the county attorney, prosecutor, about ready to present his case in court when the news about semen hit. >> we didn't expect that, keith. >> no kidding. >> no kidding. that was a curveball, but instead of that curveball making us abandon our attempt to hit that pitch, we just decided, you know what? we need to learn to be better cur cur curveball hirts. >> except what happened next didn't seem leak a hit for the prosecution more like a
10:42 pm
strikeout. county attorney rawlings dropped the charges without prejudice, dismissed the case. ed owens was released. >> free as a bird. i took some heat over it, no doubt about it. >> in december of 2007, ed went home to be with his family just in time for the holidays. >> relieved. glad it's over. >> and his family appeared before the cameras to say they had never doubted his innocence. >> we've always stood by eddie saying we knew he didn't do it. anybody that knows eddie knows he wouldn't do it. >> steve strom, watching all this, was horrified. or so said his friend dick. >> he just went to pieces again. he says, they haven't got enough on him so they're going to come looking for me again. it's going to start all over. >> oh, the prosecutor tried to assure the public he wasn't giving up yu on making a case against ed owens. >> we were confident ed was the
10:43 pm
guy. we didn't want to look stupid. >> frankly, it was in most people's opinion, over. it was dead as far as a lot of peopler were concerned. >> as far as i was concerned, absolutely it was. >> your man was free to go. >> he was. >> winter settled in and snow piled up you. the karin strom murder case faded out yet again, as another season went by and the snow melted and the city bloomed into another summer. and her killer, whoever that might be, remained free and the prosecutor did take some heat from people who might not have been aware of what his team was up to. an exhaustive reexamination of all the evidence,summer of 2008 what was, shall we say, a tiny discover country. two small spots, indication of blood on karin's underwear. minuscule spots, major
10:44 pm
implications. that blood matched the dna profile of ed owens. >> i think that karin was fighting him off and scratching his hands. he's got her pinned down, trying to sexually assault him with another hand that she's cut and scratched. that's how the blood get on her panties. >> now prosecutor rawlings was more confident he could convince a jury that, far from having consensual sex with karin, ed tried to rape her and killed her in the process, which would explain the semen found under her fingernails. >> our view is that the most consistent explanation is she's trying to prevent him from sexually assaulting her. >> so in the dog days of august, eight months after he had withdrawn the murder charges against ed owens, rawlingss refiled his murder case. >> i didn't figure they would ever refile charges again. but evidently they want to try it again. >> it was march of 2009. finally the event had arrived,
10:45 pm
almost 29 years after the murder of karin strom. it was the eve of ed owens' trial in farmington, utah. coco was overcome with emotion. >> god, don't let me fail karin. i loved her so much that i want her to know the monster got you and now i'm facing the monster and i'm going to get him. >> but who was the monster? as the trial began, the defense attorney offered his theory to the jury, that ed and karin had been having an affair, the semen got under her nails earlier before the night of the murder, a night when he wasn't even there. >> where was ed the night of the murder? i'll tell you where ed was. ed's a drunk. he went to the bar. he closed the bar. but he was not at the stroms' house murdering karin strom. >> the defense wanted the jury to believe it was an angry and jealous steve who grabbed karin by the neck and choked her to death, an entirely different story than the one told by the
10:46 pm
prosecutor. >> as karin strom was struggling for her life, what she was doing was collecting the evidence that now testifies to you who her killer was. even after she's dead. and what that evidence tells you is that her killer is ed. >> after a seven-day trial, it was now in the hands of the jury. and the detective who brought this cold case back to life was sweating. >> you just never know what a jury is going to do. >> on the first night, the jury deliberated until 9:30 p.m. and then announced they were going home. >> boy, oh, boy, the wheels of justice do grind slow, don't they? >> they do. my thought was, holy cow, we're going to be doing this all over again. >> could be. because when the jurors went home that night, they were deadlocked. how difficult was it to come forward and say you weren't so sure? >> it wasn't difficult for me because if you're going to hand down a guilty verdict, you
10:47 pm
better be able to erase all reasonable doubt. >> here they were, responsible public servants, no idea that all their deliberation about guilt or innocence was about to be turned on its head by an unlikely public confession. a poisonous accusation. and a tale almost too wild to be believed. and you think people will will believe that? >> well, if they don't, they don't. comie ining up -- >> actually, what i did was i went over to warn her. >> after all these years, ed owens speaks. there are stil
10:48 pm
10:49 pm
10:50 pm
10:51 pm
karin's sister coco tossed all night. detective brad benson barely slept the night the jury went home without a verdict. >> i was sick. >> now it looked like it might be, what, a hung jury? >> yeah. that was pretty much the only alternative as far as i was concerned. >> well, there was another alternative. as everyone would soon know. but the jury on the morning of the second day was preoccupied instead by a determined holdout.
10:52 pm
what were with you conceyou con? >> i had to be able to put ed owens in that home murdering her that night. >> his lingering doubts were eventually dispelled and the defense's efforts to pin the murder on steve were rejected. >> i think we all agreed that, yeah, he was abusive, but the motive i don't think we questioned whether or not he had motive. >> and so, before noon the second day of deliberations, a verdict. >> we the jury impanelled in the above-entitled matter do hereby find the defendant edward lewis owens guilty. >> guilty. the sound you hear is ed owens' distraught family. >> no comment. >> outside the courtroom, they dodged reporters and then insisted later that the jury had simply gotten it wrong. even the family unaware of one
10:53 pm
more wild, improbable and impending twist. almost two months after the verdict, a may morning 2009, ed's sentencing day, waiting in the wings to make a presentence statement a woman who would offer evidence that ed once raped and very nearly killed her a few years before karin's murder. and then suddenly her statement was canceled. the judge made an announcement. ed owens had something important to say. >> mr. strom had asked me to kill his wife on several different occasions and then he finally offered me half of her insurance money to do it. actually, what i did was i went over to warn her and tell her that he wanted her killed. as it turned out, there was an argument between her and i and i ended up strangling her and killing her. >> a confession. all of ed's denials had been a lie. but it was a confession accompanied by a poisonous
10:54 pm
accusation, that steve strom, karin's husband, asked ed, offered to pay him, to kill his wife. and, as the killing was an accident, said ed, he was guilty of manslaughter, not murder. unlikely and outrageous as the allegations seemed, detective benson went right back to work. and you have to investigate that now. >> yes. so the saga continues. >> hello, ed. >> meanwhile, in the visitors' room deep in a prison in draper, utah, we sat down for a chapter with the admitted killer and now accuser, ed owens. you killed her. >> yeah. but he's the one who wanted her dead. i know. i don't have any proof of that, you know, but if i'm going to go down, why not take the other person involved, you know? >> whether he was actually involved or not -- >> if he wasn't involved, i wouldn't say this. like i said, that's what he wanted me to do. he wanted me to kill her for half the insurance money. >> and then the story gets a little convoluted.
10:55 pm
did he ever pay you any money? >> nope. i wouldn't have taken it. wasn't the idea. i had no plans of killing her. none. none at all. >> now it was an accident, he says. and, as he tells this story, keep in mind that killing by strangulation requires prolonged force, several minutes of force, sustained, determined choking. >> i didn't purposely strangle her, okay? she kept slapping at me, you know, and i was trying to grab for like her shoulders, you know, and i was just shaking her, trying to, you know, telling her, will you listen to me? listen, damn it. just kept going on and on. next thing i know, she was on the floor. >> but sexual assault and murder? never, vowed ed. what about that woman who claimed he had raped her and left her for dead back in 1973? was all set to tell her story in
10:56 pm
court? it was ed's confession that prevented her testimony. did you have any problems sexually in 1973? >> what are you talking about? >> all of a sudden when she was going to come and testify, you had a statement you wanted to make. >> the girl in 1973, all right? all right. she described the guy 6 foot, 62. i'm 5'10". >> in 1973, he was charged with kidnapping and rape and assault with intent to commit murder. according to the case file, the young woman was hitch hiking, he picked her up, raped her, stabbed her with a screwdriver and tried to choke her to deniadenia death. though the woman positively identified the man, he was acquitted. he was out on parole at the time of that incident after another young woman accused him of raping her in 1969. what about the one when you were 18? >> you know, that one you could
10:57 pm
have -- had they done a date-rape type thing, yeah, i was probably guilty then. >> he was charged with rape, kidnapping and robbery, pleaded guilty to robbery. the other two charges were dismissed. but that was then. now he was claiming that karin's death was an accident and a murder for hire plot. but the more we asked for evidence to back up his claim, the more reticent he became. what kind of evidence can you provide there's any truth to that story? >> you know, it's an ongoing investigation and we're just not talking about it right now. >> you mean there's more you haven't told me is what you're trying to tell me? seriously, you've got more evidence you haven't told me? >> i don't know. could be. >> turns out he didn't. although there was an insurance policy on karin's life, an investigation revealed that ed's story was not credible and steve strom was not involved with
10:58 pm
karin's murder. and strom, burned by suspicion over the years, would not agree to do a videotaped interview. and so it was dick cantonwine who spoke for him who told us about the damage from which his friend is trying to heal. but you when the suspicion was lifted from his shoulders, he must have been thrilled, wasn't he? >> pretty much. but he still relives it over and over. >> and detective benson who finally confronted the mystery of the murder at the start of his career is looking forward to retirement now that the old green suitcase has finally yielded up its secrets. >> i think 30 years in law enforcement is probably enough. >> who killed karin strom is no longer a mystery. and that mattered deeply to the sister who kept vigil all these care years. >> i miss you. i'll always miss you. i'm going to put this ugliness
10:59 pm
behind. i love you. we did it, sis. we did it. >> once there was a day to ride in her yellow camaro and then a day to defend justice in her memory. and both are what sisters do. >> that's all for this he dig of "dateline" friday. we're off on sunday and back again next friday at 9/8 central. i'm ann curry. for all of us here at nbc news, good night.

230 Views

info Stream Only

Uploaded by TV Archive on